Thursday, September 29, 2005

A better way

At work, I have always been always on the lookout for a better, more productive way to do any of my daily tasks. The whole time I am transcribing, I am thinking, "Could this be faster? Could I make a macro for this? Could I combine some steps?"

I forget sometimes to keep that same inquisitive mentality when I'm at home. Lately I've been having problems with the TV schedule. We don't have digital TV, so to see what's on now and coming on later, we have to sit through a slow crawl of program lists on cable, and I usually time it just right so if I want to find out what's on channel 8, the list is on channel 9 and will crank on at a snail's pace through 3-digit channels before it starts over.

I get a Sunday newspaper every weekend for the little TV schedule booklet, but the Bangor Daily News stopped printing it, probably because everyone was passing up the daily paper and only buying the weekend paper like me. I read that the newspaper had a web site where I could see and print a schedule, but it apparently doesn't work with my browser or has technical issues with my computer.

I considered buying the TV Guide magazine every week, but I find it hard to navigate. Besides, I have to plow through tons of channels I don't even watch just to see what's on the channels I do watch.

At any rate, I finally had the common sense to mention my dilemma to Matt, and he told me about, a site where not only can you get a TV schedule for your area, but you can customize it and omit all those stupid channels you never watch anyway. Wow - I knew there had to be a better way! That truly simplifies my life.

It's one thing to waste valuable time (isn't all time valuable?) sitting in front of the TV watching a mediocre program. It's more of a waste to sit there watching program titles scroll one at a time.

Sometimes when you are trying to simplify your life, all you have to do is ask for help. And hopefully, you will have access to someone brilliant like Matt when you do!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One year older

Yesterday was my birthday, and I had a fantastic time! I didn't want a lot of material, tangible presents. Instead I received what I wanted most - time with my family - wrapped up in laughter, good food, a few lame jokes, lots of picture-taking, and playing hide-and-seek with little Caroline.

Every year the kids want to buy me something special for my birthday, and every year I say, "All I want is time with the family." They never believe me.

If there is one thing I have learned from my journey to simplicity, it is the necessity of discovering one's priorities and everything else will land in its proper place. And truly, priorities consist of relationships - family and others that we love. I never know what is going to happen when we get together. On second thought, I do know.

I had already received a card from my mom, and an internet card from my friend Sally in California. When I checked into my MT web site, I saw they had started a thread to wish me a happy birthday. My sister had called with a clever poem about how I'm older than she is and it will be that way forever, or something along those lines, but at my age, I can't remember so well. I had phoned my mom, too, earlier in the afternoon. So already, my day was upbeat. After work, I was joyously anticipating the arrival of the kids. OK, so technically they are adults. They'll always be kids to me.

I started the evening out with a recitation of all the jokes in Reader's Digest. I laughed hilariously at them and Ed just rolled his eyes. I made him sit there and listen, because it was my birthday. Then our daughter-in-law Sarah and son Matt came in and we heard about her student teaching and how she's doing all the teacher's work with no pay. When Sarah's around, we always have to make fun of Matt in some way. Poor absentminded Matt. Such a dear.

Ed and Sarah and Matt were laughing about a knife commercial they saw on TV. They were pretty hilarious trying to reproduce it for me. Then I started to tell a story, which I can't remember now because I am so old, and Ed kept interrupting me (I guess he was "just jokin'"), so I begged, I pleaded with him, "just one day" - could he not be obnoxious, rude, crude, or any variation thereof?! So with Sarah laughing, (Ed amuses her), he went into the kitchen to supervise his special dish - a chicken stew, the recipe of which he got from a cooking show on TV.

Then daughter Rachel and son-in-law Chris and little Caroline popped in. I felt so warmed when the first thing Caroline said was, "Happy birthday, Grammy!" My Aunt June and Uncle Tommy called from Arkansas to give their birthday greetings. I opened a lovely card from Caroline and then a gift from Rachel and Chris, which was a corduroy jacket. Rachel was so sweet to remember that I wanted one. Unfortunately it didn't fit, but since Rachel had wanted one just like it, I told her to exchange it for one in her size. She balked, but I reiterated: I DON'T NEED PRESENTS. I JUST WANT MY FAMILY!!!!

We all praised Caroline for using the little potty which they brought with them. Then we sat down to a delicious dinner of chicken stew - except Rachel said it ought to have rice, so she got up and made some. I talked about my decision to give up any food that contained high fructose corn syrup, and this time Chris rolled his eyes. I believe we managed to get through the meal without discussing bodily functions or fluids, which must have been a first. Afterward, I took a photograph of Rachel and Matt standing back to back showing their bellies (Rachel being over 7 months' pregnant). After a few more pictures, we left Ed home and went to Friendly's for ice cream. There Sarah and Rachel got in a discussion over who was the most financially distraught. Rachel said, "I'm a stay-at-home mom!" Then Sarah said, "I have to pay to work!" We all agreed that Sarah had won. She is truly the poorest of the poor.

Someone brought up the topic of a black light that showed where urine was on a toilet seat, apparently a real product on the market, and Chris made the observation that maybe it wasn't always Ed's fault that we talk about bodily functions and fluid when we are eating together - since Ed wasn't with us at the time.

Matt insisted on paying for my ice cream, because he still didn't believe me that all I wanted was TIME WITH THE FAMILY!!! Then we all came home and Rachel and Chris took Caroline upstairs to get her teeth brushed and jammies on so that after she fell asleep in the van on the way home, she could just go straight to bed. While they were up there, Matt asked us, "Are they still up there?" After we said yes, he added, "Are they putting Caroline to sleep?" Oh, dear, Matt. I think he realized how it sounded right after he said it!

Right after everyone left, we found that Matt had forgotten a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a magazine. Lovable, absentminded Matt!

I'm sure there are many other things that happened last night, but since I am so old, they have slipped my mind. The only other thing that would have made my birthday complete is to have all the rest of the family up here with us. But other than that, it was a very special birthday, and it meant more to me than a whole room full of presents. I am so blessed.

Thank you, my dear, wonderful, quirky family!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Narrowing choices

In the past I have posted on how our seemingly unlimited choices make it hard to simplify our lives. It is only recently that I realized that the converse is true - limit your choices, simplify your life.

I absolutely love Coke and other "sodas," as they say up in Yankee land. Coke was my preferred source of caffeine in the morning (never drank coffee), and when I found myself not only drinking a can in the morning, but another can at lunch, and maybe another can at night, I knew I was out of control. After all, there is nothing redeeming about Coke. They call it "liquid candy."
At any rate, I decided to go cold-turkey and gives up the stuff. I left the "end Coke deprivation" time intentionally blank, because it was an experiment at first just to see if I could do it and how it would affect me.

After one week without Coke, I was surprisingly still alive and just as productive as ever. I was so pleased, I decided at that point to give up chocolate, too. Chocolate in all its forms. My family thought I was pushing it, but I was so enthralled with my Coke experiment that I thought I could do anything.

And apparently, indeed I can! I have been over 1-1/2 months without either Coke or chocolate now.

The reason for posting about my experiment is this: Do you realize that limiting your choices frees up your "decision-making" part of the brain? When Rachel and I were in Portland, we stopped by Mrs. Fields in the mall to get a cookie. In the old days, I would have pondered for several minutes on making my decision, as I always worry when making decisions that I will make the wrong one - even with a simple cookie! Anyway, I glanced over the cookies. Mrs. Fields had many, many delectable-looking treats in the display case - yet, I had to choose between 2 cookies. Because I have released chocolate from my eating repertoire, I only had to choose between sugar cookie and peanut butter cookie. Wow, that was fast! I didn't realize up until that point how limiting my choices could positively affect me.

Same with Baskin-Robbins. I stopped by there this week, and out of all the ice cream flavors (not counting sherbet), I could choose between vanilla and strawberry. Every one of the remaining flavors had chocolate in it. What a timesaver! I think it wouldn't take many trips to Baskin-Robbins before I was tired of vanilla and strawberry.

I discovered that chocolate is ubiquitous in our world. Giving up chocolate is not giving up ice cream, or cookies, or cake, or donuts, or this or that. It truly encompasses a wide berth of choices, narrowing them down tremendously. I don't even have to think. If it has chocolate in it, I decline. Such time saved in decision-making!

Now, I figured with all the time I'm saving, I could get in some quilting. So yesterday I made the 50th block of Rachel's quilt. Hey, I may be on to something!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First take a deep breath

I have to confess - I got a new book. I know, I know. Well, goodness, I gave up Cokes and chocolate; don't make me forsake all pleasure! The title of this book intrigued me: The Slow Down Diet. I didn't buy the book because of the word diet; I bought it because of the word slow. One of my many weaknesses is the inability to slow down. I walk fast, I talk fast, I eat fast, I type fast, I read fast, and I move fast. (This is why I have so many accidents.) This book by Marc David is all about eating, and slow is the operative word. You wouldn't think it would take a whole book to teach a person how to eat slowly, but apparently it does. He urges the reader that the worst thing one can do is eat under stress. He says the body under the stress response directs circulation away from the digestive system, releases the stress hormone cortisol, and remains on high alert as long as the threat is perceived. To alleviate this stress before eating, he offers a breathing exercise:

Sit in a comfortable position with spine straight, feet flat on the floor. Eyes can be open or closed. Deeply inhale, filling your lungs to approximately two-thirds capacity. Hold your breath for several seconds. Exhale fully. Repeat this cycle ten times.

As hard as it is to imagine the need for a book on teaching us how to eat, it is even harder to imagine the need for a book to teach us how to breathe. After all, breathing is what we do, all day, all night, without even thinking about it. Well, maybe it's time to think about it.

I was reflecting on this act of breathing when I realized that I was really thinking about inspiration. That's a strange word, isn't it? We usually think of inspiration with its more common definitions. GuruNet lists them as follows:
  1. Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.
  2. The condition of being so stimulated
  3. An agency, such as a person or work of art, that moves the intellect or emotions or prompts action or invention.
  4. Something, such as a sudden creative act or idea, that is inspired.
  5. The quality of inspiring or exalting: a painting full of inspiration.
  6. Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul of humankind.
And then there is this one:
  1. The act of drawing in, especially the inhalation of air into the lungs.
Somehow all these definitions are interrelated. I remember Ed preaching several times on the book of Genesis...."and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life." And I guess that means we have been inspired.

The more I practiced slow, controlled, purposeful breathing, the more I realized that I spent a lot of time holding my breath. I don't think I was aware of it before, but I am now. Since I am a medical transcriptionist who gets paid by production, I keep my body pretty much on "full alert" in open stress mode most of the day. In doing so, I hold my breath a lot, which has the effect of throwing my whole body into tension. I also noticed that I tend to sit in a slumped-over position, squeezing my diaphragm and making my breathing even more shallow.

I've never done meditation per se, but I have read about various forms of meditation, and I know that conscious breathing is a cornerstone of relaxing the mind, body, and spirit. I have never had difficulty breathing, but I transcribe reports of people who feel as if they are drowning. Their chests are full of fluid, they are gasping for the breath of life, they are totally dependent on oxygen tanks to be able to function in a way most of us take for granted. I can only imagine how horrible that must feel. And the more they panic, the more difficulty they have breathing.

We are meant to breathe, fully, deeply, and to be able to "inspire" in all its meanings.

On the site, there is this observation:
Human beings are a mixture of matter and spirit, of rootedness in the earth while having their origin in God’s creative breath.
I like that. God's creative breath. I think that captures the nuances of inspiration.

My sister's favorite hymn is "Breathe on Me, Breath of God." May we learn to stop for a moment, breathe in, breathe out, consciously feel our lives relax just a little more, our spirits renewed, our hearts inspired.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

A world of teachers

Our family has a lot of teachers. Our daughter is a teacher on a leave of absence to raise her kids. Her husband is a teacher. Our son Matt just married Sarah, who is doing her student teaching this semester. Of course, teachers are not the most well paid group of professionals. We laugh about it sometimes, and tell Matt that since he is the only one in the bunch who is not a teacher, we will depend on him to support the rest of us in our old age.

In fact, though, we all are teachers. Go in any store, parking lot, home, or restaurant, and you will see kids learning from adults. They learn how to act in a civilized manner....or not. They learn to say "please" and "thank you"....or not. They learn to open doors for people....or not. But they are definitely learning. And we are teaching.

Last weekend in Portland, Rachel and Caroline and I ate lunch at Olive Garden. Rachel was 7 months pregnant, her hip was hurting, the day was warm, and by the time we got to the restaurant it was way past lunchtime. Even so, it was crowded, with a predicted 25-minute wait. We took the little pager they gave us and walked outside into the crowd of people. There were all kinds of people sitting on the benches, some older adults, and several young adults with kids of various ages. Rachel stood there in front of everybody, and not one person - not one - offered to give their seat to her. Not one adult suggested to their children to give up their seats for the pregnant lady. I really was surprised. Maybe I shouldn't have been. Maybe I'm just naive and don't know that things have changed and most people are looking out only for themselves. Maybe this world has accepted the status quo for so long that no one notices when a pregnant woman (or elderly woman or man, or handicapped person) needs a little act of kindness.

We were finally driven inside the restaurant by a man who didn't seem concerned or aware that a pregnant woman and everyone else was breathing his cigarette smoke. Again, we stood, and again, no one in this group of people offered her a seat either. Finally a couple was paged that their table was ready, so when they got up, Rachel sat down. There was room for Caroline and me, too.

Then Rachel turned to her daughter and said, "Caroline, you may sit here, but on one condition. If an old person or a pregnant lady like me comes in and can't find a seat, you will have to get up and give them your seat, because that is using your manners. Do you understand?" Caroline nodded. A few minutes later a woman in her 70s or 80s walked in. She leaned against a post while she waited. Rachel bent down to Caroline and said something in her ear. Caroline looked over at the woman and then at me. I took her hand and together we got up and walked over to the lady and offered her our seats. At first she declined, saying thanks for the offer, but she could just stand. We insisted, though, and the lady did indeed walk to the bench, where she sat down beside Rachel.

I doubt if anyone else noticed the whole incident. Probably nobody cared anyway. But Caroline had the opportunity to begin what I'm sure will be a lifetime of learning - about manners, about civility, about empathy, about sacrifice, about what it means to live in community with one another. And if the other children present were learning anything, it was whatever the adults with them were teaching by their actions, or lack of them.

I began this post by saying that our family has a lot of teachers. Well, we have a lot of teachers with degrees, that's true. But I was reminded Saturday that you don't need a degree to be a teacher. The kids are watching.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


I was riding in our daughter's van the other day, sitting beside Caroline. Rachel wanted to demonstrate Caroline's intelligence (as if I needed a demonstration of what is obviously above normal!), so she was asking her some questions.
"Caroline, what is in your head?" Caroline didn't even pause. "A skull," she said.
"And Caroline, what else is in your head?" Caroline quickly answered, "A brain."
"And Caroline, what does a brain help you do?" Caroline thought for the briefest of seconds, then smiled. "It helps you think...about music and clappin'!" Then she laughed and applauded herself.

Ah, yes. Helps you think. Sometimes we do things by rote because we have always done them that way, not stopping to think that there may be a better and more efficient method out there.

My drive to the hospital where I work is all uphill, and the return trip home is all downhill. The distance is only a few long blocks. Yesterday I was thinking about the high price of gasoline, reviewing ways I could get better mileage, and I had a brilliant idea. I decided to experiment with the drive home. I pressed the gas pedal once to get started out of my parking space, and once more to get through the parking lot. I inched up over a little incline, then coasted down to the street to turn right. Since I had to stop at that point, I had to press the accelerator one more time to start down the street. I then coasted to the next turn, braked slightly to turn right and coasted down that street. The car slowed, then reached a downward incline in which it sped up again, over a short elevated area, then downhill again where I gained speed again. I braked just enough to turn left, then coasted to my driveway all downhill. I turned into my driveway, still without using the accelerator, and braked to enter my garage.

I drive that little drive every day, yet, knowing that it was downhill, I never thought of easing off the gas pedal and just coasting. Now I'm challenging myself to press the accelerator the least amount of times to get home and let gravity do most of the work. It makes me feel like a ball at the putt-putt golf course, trying to gain enough momentum to get over the little bumps, then using gravity to keep the car going until it lands in the garage. Such a simple idea; why haven't I thought of it before?

Having a brain is great. Actually using it - priceless!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Elephants in a Circle

I try to avoid driving at night, because at age 50, my vision takes longer to adjust to oncoming headlights and determine curves in the road. I usually just schedule my life so I am not driving after dark.

This weekend, however, Rachel and Caroline and I went to Portland to buy a nursery rocking chair. Caroline is trying to potty train right now, and this necessitated frequent stops. As luck (or non-luck) would have it, I found myself having to drive back home in the dark. I mentally drove the familiar route as I left Rachel's house. Let's see, there shouldn't be a whole lot of interstate traffic when I'm trying to get in the left lane there...There are stores still open on the highway, so I will have their illumination...Oh no! Construction!

Route 1A is under construction in several places. Orange cones are parked in wavy lines here and there to direct traffic around, over, in between the areas of repair. There are several places with no pavement at all. This area is hard enough to negotiate in the daytime, but at night I knew it would be treacherous, at least for me. I could feel my heart beat faster as I neared the construction zone. I slowed down to let others pass, so there were several cars in front of me as we approached. The cars that passed me were now crawling, not flying. Bumpity bump, bumpity bump, right, then left, then right, then straight, in no apparent pattern or rhyme or reason. Bumpity bump.

I found myself not looking so much at the road itself, or even the fluorescent orange cones. I hypnotically followed the red taillights of the car in front of me. At one curve, I noted there were cars in front of the one I followed. I pictured each driver following the taillights of the one in front of him. (I was in the middle of a large sandwich of cars going 10 mph, and I had nothing to do but philosophize.) Suddenly I got the mental picture of a circle of circus elephants. You can imagine them - each trunk holding onto the tail in front of it and each tail likewise holding onto the trunk behind it. There was no leader, there was no follower, yet everyone was a leader and everyone was a follower. Each depended on the other to be there as part of the chain.

Obviously, as I am writing this, I got home safely. But the elephant picture stuck in my mind.

Ed hates the expression "self-made man." He would say that nobody is "self-made." Every one of us learns from the other, and other people have helped us get where we are today. In turn, we help to show others the way. I am a medical transcriptionist. I never had formal schooling for MT, but I learned as I went. Not on my own, though. I had help, a lot of help. Even if I studied on my own, I had help learning which books to study. I learned about correct format from a more experienced MT who took time to educate me. I learned from an MT web site. I am still learning from people, books that people have written, and the web site where people post. In turn, I have helped MTs in my office learn how to format, how to do research on the Internet, and how to make shortcuts for that ever-elusive line count. We are all followers, all leaders.

I heard by the grapevine that several people whom I do not personally know read my blog on a regular basis. That seemed so strange to me. At first, I wondered why anyone would take perfectly good time to read my rambling words when they have their own life to live. I don't blog so much for "getting published" as for my own introspection, putting my thoughts down so I can make some sense of my life and remember where I am headed. I concluded, though, that if anyone is entertained by this, so be it. If anyone realizes a desire to simplify his/her life by reading this, even better.

We are all in the chain together.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Life examples

What is the ideal life? Well, that means different things to different people, I guess. Each person has to answer that question as it pertains to her/his individual experience and dreams. Ed and I have chosen to view our ideal life as one of living simply yet comfortably with less focus on material, tangible things and more concentration on other priorities. To some folks, though, the simple life means working less and having a lot of time to relax every day. Everyone can understand downsizing to a smaller house, or a smaller car, or a less expansive closet. But when the conversation turns more towards purpose, I notice several of my acquaintances become flustered. Isn't the purpose of a simple life to relax? Isn't that what, for example, retirement is all about? What do people mean when they say that they dream of a life of simplicity?

Occasionally on my journey I take time to think about role models for the ideal life. This morning I had a serendipitous experience when I sat down in the early hours of the morning with my cup of hot tea and flipped on the TV for a few minutes. I discovered that I was in the middle of a biography of Rosalynn Carter. What a remarkable lady! Would her life today be described as simple? No, I don't think so. Would it be described as compassionate, fulfilled, full of love, full of contentment, full of purpose? Oh, my, yes! She is one busy woman, and I would find it hard to maintain her schedule even at my age. She is vice chair of The Carter Center, where she functions as ambassador, mediator, human rights and peace promoter. She continues to advocate for mental health reform. She and Jimmy also are heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity and other community-minded endeavors. In addition to this, she is a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother.

Now, be truthful. If you looked back at the list of recent presidential administrations, would you include Jimmy and Rosalynn in the "glamorous" ones? Dazzling? Charismatic? Sophisticated? Elegant? No, they always have considered themselves simple, ordinary people. They are simple. But simple with a purpose. Their ideal life consists of reaching out through their ordinary lives to touch the lives of others in extraordinary ways. For them, simplicity and contentment does not mean relaxing. They are busy people. But they are busy in what counts in life - not busy to make themselves monetarily rich, not busy to make themselves look good. They give to the world and they value their family life. And in doing so they find their purpose.

Then there's my dad. Now, I feel obliged at this point to apologize for again bringing him into my posts, but for those of you who did not know him, you need to realize he was an exceptional human being, which, of course, made him an exceptional husband, an exceptional father, and an exception friend. My story is this:

When my sister and I were teenagers, we had the opportunity to usher for performances at the Auditorium, and after ushering, we were allowed to sit and watch the shows for free. We saw the Metropolitan Opera perform. We saw Fiddler on the Roof and other Broadway shows. We saw the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. We saw Van Cliburn, the concert pianist. All without paying a penny. After every show, late at night, Daddy would drive downtown and pick us up. Knowing he had to get up the next day to go to work or church, he still came. Without ever a complaint. When I became an adult, I would marvel at the sacrifice he had made for us for so many years, something I really didn't appreciate at the time. I asked him once, "Daddy, why did you let us do all that when it was so much trouble for you to get us there and pick us up so late?" He said, "I did it because I knew you girls would have never had the opportunity otherwise to see such things." In a way, doing that made his life more hectic, less simple, but to him his sacrifice had meaning. In the same way, he lived frugally so he could spend money on home movies. He lived frugally so he could give more money to the church and other charities.

Daddy and Rosalynn have one thing in common. It's their desire for simplicity and personal fulfillment and contentment, knowing that the first step is getting their priorities in place.

I want to live simply not for the sake of living simply, but to gain more time for my priorities. By accumulating less, spending more judiciously, and making wise use of time and energy, I am actually freeing up my life for the important things, like relationships. Simplicity is not the goal; it is the tool. It is not the destination; it is the means.

What is the ideal life? I think I'm made some progress answering that question for me. Now it's your turn.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Inside Story

The journey to simplicity and contentment takes a lot of discipline. As I have posted before, the world "out there" is betting that it can influence us to buy products that we don't need, and in the process "buy" into a lifestyle that we would be better off without. To figure out a way out of this mire, we look outside ourselves. We buy books, read magazine articles, search the web, talk to friends and family - all this to accumulate ideas concerning what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. We especially are on a continual quest for those elusive things called willpower and inspiration. If only, we say, if only we had these, we would be set on this journey. And so we turn over every leaf and every rock, thinking today might be the day we find the pot of gold which holds the strength and wisdom we need. Alas, until we find it, we think, we will just struggle along.

Our daughter Rachel and husband Chris and toddler Caroline lived with us a few months last winter while their house was being built. Any move, of course, is stressful, but when you throw in two families moving in together, family helping you pack, and a toddler in the middle of it all, the stress really accumulates. This house looked overwhelmed with stuff. Caroline, little though she was, came with a bundle of things herself. Her books alone took up half the house. Her child-sized table and chair set was just ripe for tripping over. We kept diapers and wipes upstairs and downstairs...Wee Willy Winky himself would have been exhausted.

In the middle of all the chaos of moving, Rachel discovered she had lost her wallet. This understandably produced some tears and anxiety. She tried to remember when she last used it. I called a restaurant where we ate during the week of the move, but they had not found it. We searched everywhere. After they got settled in, she called to report her credit cards missing, got a new driver's license, and handled all the endless tasks associated with losing one's wallet. She was relieved to find out that the cards were not being used anywhere fraudulently, so she assumed the wallet had dropped into one of the numerous boxes that had been packed and put in the storage unit. There was no way to know for sure, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it other than opening all those carefully taped boxes to check.

In February they moved out.

When spring came, we were doing some cleaning in preparation for selling the house, when I grabbed a grocery store bag out of the corner of the kitchen. I saw some plastic cups inside, and I remembered that this was some stuff we kept unpacked for use on moving day - cups, napkins, some plastic utensils. Oh, and a wallet. Yes, her wallet was here. I called her immediately with the information. Even though it was too late to save her the trouble of changing her credit cards and IDs, it nonetheless was, as they say, "closure."

The wallet had been here all the time. For a week after that, I found myself whispering that phrase. It was unbelievable - right under our noses. If we only had known.

I think in some ways when we pray fervently for wisdom, discernment, self-discipline, and movitation/inspiration for our journey, God just says, "It's already there. I have already given you everything you need. If you become aware that you already have it, you can use it." Yet we still seek outside ourselves what is already in us. It was there all the time. Now we must activate it. The kingdom of God is within you.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Coming back again

As usual, my daily e-mail meditation gave me food for thought:

The man who succeeds in his inner exploration is the man who comes back. He comes back to more of the lessons he must learn. He returns in spite of discouragement, in spite of hearing blunt facts about himself. Some people do not come back. They go away sorrowfully or critically, therefore losing what could have saved them. We must be different. We must come back, a thousand times if necessary, until we reach the harbor we sense is beyond the fog.

Vernon Howard
Secrets for Higher Success

Our journey, as I have mentioned before, is a great deal more about the mind than about actions. It is returning our brains again and again to focus on the goal, the little steps, the big steps - facing frustration and disappointment, which invariably brings the uneasiness of second-guessing ourselves. Introspection is not comfortable. It is usually very uncomfortable. Yet the lessons need to be learned. And some of us are more stubborn than others.

We have seen this week how the hurricane has forced our country to do some introspection on subjects of race relations, poverty, preparedness, and need. This is in some ways paralleling our own personal introspection as we feel the first tease of autumn in the air and know some important decisions need to be made about our house. We have similar questions: Are we prepared for a change in plans? Are we willing to think ahead? Are we aware of the "what if" scenarios? Can we change our actions to fit the needs? Can we accept the change in plans that seems necessary and throw our full weight into implementing those plans?

We picked a very bad time to try to sell our house, especially now. It didn't help that the first few months the house was on the market were essentially lost because there was no advertising, for instance. Now that gas prices are soaring, everyone knows the home heating oil prices are next on the agenda, and some leaves on the tree at the end of our street have already turned a bright red orange. The leaves were inaudible but they might as well have been shouting, "Fall is almost here! Winter will follow! See that Victorian house for sale down the street? It is huge! It will cost a fortune to heat! Don't even think about it!"

In addition to the problem of selling the house, we have the other problem of running out of time to build the next house. They don't build much in the middle of a Maine winter.

So we have come to the realization (working on acceptance) that we will be spending another winter in this house. Basically the house will not be actively marketed until spring. In some ways, this will be a mighty challenge, because heating oil prices will probably be double those of last year, and we will have to make more sacrifices in other spending, as well as turning off some radiators and shutting off rooms. Ed has not sawed or split wood this summer, as he usually would have been doing, because we thought we would be spending this winter in our new house. So now he has to play catch-up. I am sure wood prices will soar too because the demand will be so high.

Staying here also involves our going to the storage unit and bringing back everything we took over there a few months ago - boxes and boxes and boxes. Heavy boxes. Then all of our hard work emptying the house and "staging" will be reversed. We will have boxes everywhere again.

In a way, this is a good thing - staying here this winter. I have been feeling in limbo so long that I haven't let myself do much except clean house and worry. Now I can relax just a little and work some projects.

But fall is also a dangerous time of year for us because we are evaluating our wardrobes again, and seeing what we might need for winter. (Ed has created the most remarkable guilt-free means of buying new clothes: He's lost so much weight his clothes don't fit anymore.) Meanwhile, the fall clothes catalogs keep coming and even the Christmas catalogs are here. $$$$ This will be the first Christmas since our determination to simplify and modify. It will also be the first Christmas we will have had two grandchildren. It's a veritable obstacle course on the road to simplicity!

And so we dutifully are reminded that the time for introspection has come. What have we discovered? Could we have done more? Did we make wise decisions? I believe they call it the "shoulda/coulda" syndrome. Now fall is on the doorstep. And the journey to simplicity continues. Through the frustration, through the disappointment, through the temptations, through the worry - we walk. Through the realization that we are so much better off than many others - we walk. Through fear of the unknown with "cautious optimism" we walk.
And hopefully we learn.